Thanks to a very generous Informal Science Education grant from the National Science Foundation, the Free-Choice Learning Laboratory will soon be experimenting with some very promising emergent technologies. These technologies—soon to be integrated into our research space here at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center (HMSCVC)—include facial recognition, eye-tracking and augmented reality systems. RFID cards will allow visitors to opt out of these measures. We’re also looking to collaborate with outside researchers through our visiting scholars program.

To make use of these potent data collection tools, we will establish three new exhibits as research platforms:

1. Interactive climate change exhibit: This exhibit will ask visitors to share their own experiences and knowledge. The data collected by the exhibit can then be used to study cultural cognition and the underlying values of visitors.

2. Wave tank and engineering challenge exhibit: The hands-on, interactive wave tank will let visitors explore wave energy, marine structural engineering, and tsunami education. This platform allows for the study of hands-on STEM activities, as well as social dynamics of learning.

3. Remote sensing data visualization: The “Magic Planet” spherical display serves as the centerpiece of our remote sensing hall. We will redesign the 500-square-foot gallery space around the Magic Planet to update exhibit design and content, and to incorporate our new evaluation tools. This research platform allow for the study of complex visualizations, decoding meaning, and personal data narratives, including having visitors collect, analyze and visualize their own remotely sensed data.

A lot of preparation is underway, specifically around building the wave tank exhibit. We are also starting to explore a number of tools that will be used in the lab. Laura Dover has been exploring the potential ‘subject eye view’ of a head-mounted Looxcie camcorder—”the Borg camera,” as we have come to know it. We’ll post more about this as Laura’s work progresses, but she has already “assimilated” some volunteers, whom she put to work trying out the camera. The results are promising.

On a related note, the new OctoCam went online this week after our last camera succumbed to a year in seawater. The streaming underwater Octocam gets an overage of 12,000 viewers a day from all over the world. Ursula, our resident E. dofleini, responded in her usual manner by stuffing it into her mouth and trying to destroy it. She has not succeeded. A large octopus—by nature immensely strong and irrepressibly curious—is a good durability test for submersible equipment.

We’re also refurbishing the Magic Planet, our 3-foot spherical projection system capable of presenting global data realistically on an animated globe. The original projector has long since ceased functioning. Our tech team is installing a new projection system as well as redesigning the mounting and image centering systems. It’s quite a task! We are looking forward to installing Michael Starobin’s new movie “Loop” for our winter visitors.

In general we are evaluating our evaluation tools, drawing up plans and falling into a productive rhythm. We look forward to your feedback in the days and months to come.

The FCL Lab is the fruit of 7 years of work to imagine creating a center for studying free-choice learning in the Visitors Center at HMSC.  Tremendous support from Oregon Sea Grant’s current director, Steve Brandt, and former director, Bob Malouf, as well as sage leadership advice from former Associate Directo, Jay Rasmussen, and current assistant director, Joe Cone, gave us a great early foundation for advancing a research agenda around visitor learning that would be exciting and relevant to university researchers, ocean science educators, and the ISE field at large.  We have also had great support for student and faculty research over the years from John Falk and Lynn Dierking heading up the degree programs in FCL through Science and Math Education at OSU and Kerry Carlin-Morgan, the Director of Education at Oregon Coast Aquarium, our next door neighbors and partners in both research and professional development.  Funding from NOAA, NSF, Title IIB, and Sea Grant have supported our efforts to integrate research into the visitor experience.  This early and ongoing support has made it possible for us to now take the next step to creating experiences that blend research and learning seamlessly and that will allow us to become an open lab space for researchers across the field.

This blog, our website, webinars, and ongoing publications are great ways to find out about and get involved with the amazing group of faculty, students, museum educators, evaluators, developers, designers, and researchers we are working with both in Oregon and nationwide.  So, welcome to the FCL Lab. I hope you will become a part of our community!

I’ve been poking at the blog site roughly, using a found stick. As a temporary banner, I have inserted a cropped version of one of our logos. This will change, as will much else, more than likely. I have given the site a vaguely Beaveresque color scheme, but am in no way committed to any particular detail at this point. In any case, I have no interest in football.

The layout remains a throbbing zygote, yet to sprout the rudiments of what will surely become stout and powerful limbs. We have at our disposal numerous and customizable widgets. Of these, I have put in place what I consider the most useful and necessary. The two pages on the bar above, which describe the program and introduce our staff, will also need tweaking. Perhaps we should reuse or adapt our final website copy for this purpose.